Muzi Wertheim
Muzi Wertheim. Photo by Motti Milrod
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The Environmental Protection Ministry plans a NIS 1.2 million public-relations campaign on the television show "A Star is Born," the Israeli version of "American Idol." The ministry wants the show's high ratings to help it achieve its goals of increasing recycling, conservation and keeping public areas clean.

The PR package has been purchased for the rest of the shows for this season, which is half over.

The decision was made by the ministry, headed by Minister Gilad Erdan, and by Lapam - the Israeli Governmental Advertising Agency.

According to sources at the ministry, the idea of presenting its message on the show, broadcast by Channel 2 franchisee Keshet, is to reach the program's young audience.

Much of the money for the campaign is to come from a fund known as the cleanliness protection fund. That fund, which the ministry oversees, received its money from sources including drink manufacturers as part of the implementation of the Bottle Deposit Law.

A major contributor to the fund is the Central Bottling Company Group, whose controlling shareholder is Muzi Wertheim, who is also Keshet's board chairman. "Muzi Wertheim is not involved in any way in the content of the program 'A Star is Born,'" a Keshet spokeswoman said.

The fund has piled up more than NIS 400 million recently, of which NIS 12.5 million is earmarked for PR. In contrast, the Environmental Protection Ministry's 2009 budget for education and PR work is NIS 2.5 million.

Lapam's director Natan Meir confirmed that collaboration is planned between "A Star is Born" and the ministry.

"We believe this is very good media for the Environmental Protection Ministry's activities," he said. "The intent is to convey messages that will be incorporated into the program as well as on its Web site. The messages are connected not only to recycling but also to conserving energy, creating community gardens and using green fuel."

The collaboration has raised questions among environmental organizations, especially on the way the ministry prioritizes its recycling efforts.

The Union for Environmental Defense said that despite the need for PR, "the most urgent and important need is municipal infrastructure for refuse collection and for recycling facilities."

The group said that because "approval of requests submitted to establish recycling facilities has been delayed, and some may be rejected, the Environmental Protection Ministry should pledge that its financial resources be directed largely to ensure extensive and efficient recycling facilities throughout the country."

According to a senior official at another environmental group, "I regret the ministry's decision. Significant environmental thinking is a different culture of thinking. This [campaign] supports a program that encourages extreme competitiveness, and somewhat commercializes culture."

The ministry said it will be spending hundreds of millions of shekels in a multiyear plan to promote recycling and the separation of household refuse, including the creation of infrastructure. Tens of millions of shekels of that funding will be given to selected local councils in the coming weeks.

"We emphasize that the creation of infrastructure and PR work are funded simultaneously. With the creation of infrastructure, the ministry will increase the extent of its PR to a variety of media to lead the public to greater involvement in recycling."